Quarterback Matt Flynn, Aaron Rodgers’ backup for the last four years, is set to earn himself a starting job and a huge salary increase, largely based on the strength of two amazing games in the NFL. But is he the next big star in the NFL, or an unproven raw talent?
The NFL is a quarterback driven league. Rule changes favor the passing game, and quarterbacks have been shattering records left and right. Of the top six passing yardage seasons in NFL history, four of them occurred last year.
Having an elite, franchise quarterback is the top priority for every team in the league, and there aren’t enough to go around. There was a strong crop of rookie quarterbacks last season, led by Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, and this year appears to have two strong candidates with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but there are still several teams jockeying for a quarterback via free agency, which starts on March 13.
“I’m a confident person but the element of the unknown makes you wish March 13 was tomorrow,” Flynn said this week. “Hopefully some teams will be interested in me and I can find a good opportunity. I want to lead a team and I’m excited about it.”
Flynn got some great experience in a quarterback friendly system in Green Bay. While he loved the team and earned a Super Bowl ring as a backup, the opportunity to lead a team, combined with a salary increase from $600,000 to as much as $10 million per year, would be too big of an opportunity to pass up.
“I’ve loved being a Packer, and it’s not 100% sure I’m leaving Green Bay,” Flynn said. “But as a competitor and football player, that’s what you play the game for — to be a starter in the League.
There are a couple of other big name quarterbacks who could be available. Drew Brees is fully expected to re-sign with the Saints, and Peyton Manning’s status is uncertain, but he is still under contract for next season, pending the $28 million payment due to him on March 8. Manning could be a fascinating opportunity for a team to pick up one of the greatest players in the league, but he is struggling to return from 4 neck surgeries, so his health will remain a question.
Flynn represents a completely different question. He is one of the most intriguing free agents, and perhaps the biggest enigma in years. Looking at the other recent backups gone free agent – Matt Cassel was a coveted free agent, but he had a full season filling in for an injured Tom Brady for people to judge from. Kevin Kolb had a smaller body of work, but 7 starts and over 300 attempts to judge from.
Flynn is largely being judged off of two games. Most recently, as the Packers rested Aaron Rodgers for the final game of the season, Flynn turned in an amazing performance that got the attention of everyone in the league. On January 1 against Detroit, Flynn completed 31 of 44 passes (70.5 percent) for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers had one of the most amazing years on record, and earned a league MVP award, but Flynn had the best game of the season for the Packers. And his 480 yards and 6 TDs were both Packers team records – feats never accomplished by Rodgers or Brett Favre.
He also had a strong game last season against the New England Patriots, while Rodgers was recovering from a concussion, where Flynn was 24 of 37 for 251 yards and 3 TDs. That’s 9 TDs in his last two starts – against the Patriots and the Lions.
Those two games have many people asking… “Who is this guy?”
Flynn came from an athletic family, and his father Alvin was a quarterback at Baylor.
“My mom always says I got my athletic ability from her, but my dad was a huge influence and the reason I started playing quarterback,” Flynn says.
He credits his father with being his first and most influential teacher. “He taught me how to play the game,” Flynn said. “Everything about quarterback mechanics and being mentally strong. Basically everything I knew about the position until I got to college.”
Alvin is apparently tough to satisfy, as Flynn said, “After the 480-yard game against Detroit, he said, ‘Good job but there’s a couple of things you can do to be even better.’ “
Flynn was a three year back up at LSU, including backing up JaMarcus Russell, and finally got the starting job as a senior in 2007.
“It was tough to wait so long to start at LSU, but that experience of going from a backup to the spotlight for one year definitely will help me as I hopefully move forward as an NFL starter,” Flynn said. “I know I can handle it. I’m a laid back person so it doesn’t affect me too much. I was confident then and I’m confident now.”
His senior year, he went 10-2 as a starter, with four come-from-behind victories, and he earned the MVP award in the BCS Championship Game. His numbers for the season weren’t eye-popping, but efficient. He completed just 56 percent of his passes for 2,407 yards with 21 TDs and 11 INTs.
For comparison – in 2006, Flynn’s junior year – Russell completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,129 yards and 28 TDs with 8 INTs. Russell went first overall to the Raiders. A year later, Flynn was a 7th round draft pick to the Packers, number 209 overall.
Rodgers had just earned the starting job in 2008, on Favre’s departure, and Flynn became the new understudy. He gave him a great opportunity to learn from one of the best quarterbacks and coaching staffs in the game.
“Aaron is the best quarterback in the game and he took me under his wing,” Flynn says. “He taught me a lot and I’m very thankful for the time I spent and my coaches. It will be bittersweet if I leave. I made a lot of friends for life there.”
He admits he had some learning to do from his college days, and his four years as a backup in Green Bay have given him the opportunity to make those improvements. Now he’s ready to take a step up to the next level.
“I’ve learned so much mentally and physically from some of the best in Green Bay,” Flynn said. “When I first got there, I wasn’t as prepared as I am now. I’ve worked on mechanical adjustments and I feel that I’m a lot better passer in arm strength and accuracy than I was in college. I’ve been working to get better and better and I continue to do so.”
And his goal looking forward is simple, “My goal is to be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL and all I can ask for is an opportunity to find a good situation with a team that wants me. And then go there and have success.”
Thanks to his performance with the chances he’s had the last two years, it looks like Flynn will get that chance next month when the bidding formally opens up. And with a full offseason to prepare as the starter, he will be a fascinating player to watch on opening day this fall.